Youth Changemaker: Xiuhtezcatl Martinez

"Xiuhtezcatl is an incredible example that your age doesn't matter in your ability to affect government policy and that sometimes the smallest voices are the loudest.  He was chosen for  his track record of success at standing up for a cause he is personally connected to and cares about."

- The Campaign for a Presidential Youth Council

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, 12, from Boulder, Colorado, has a world view shaped by Aztec culture on his father's side, and environmental activism on his mother's side.

"My dad is of the Aztec Tradition and I have always grown up knowing that all life is sacred and should be protected. In order to change the world, we have to change the way we think about earth and others," says Xiuhtezcatl.

His deep connection with the Earth inspired him to become an activist at a very young age: he gave his first speech at a climate change rally when he was six years old. He has remained vigilant in his work even, he says, as he has watched trees he loves die from beetle infestation, several local eco-systems collapse and native species disappear—which he feels strongly are a direct result of climate change and environmental carelessness.

Xiuhtezcatl is a gently outspoken member of Earth Guardians, a nonprofit environmental group for youth.  Through Earth Guardians, Xiuhtezcatl has organized over 35 rallies and actions, including the biggest iMatter youth-led march in the United States with over 2,000 participants.

He worked with the Boulder City Council to get pesticides out of local parks, require companies to contain coal ash, implement a fee on plastic bags and end a 20-year contract with a gas and electric energy company so the City could start moving towards becoming a municipal powered by renewable energy.

That's a lot of impressive accomplishments (in a single sentence!). And while these successes are the result of many people's hard work, including the many other amazing youth in Colorado, Xiuhtezcatl has played a major role in organizing many of these initiatives. That's inspiring at any age, but especially in someone who's not yet a teenager.  Here’s how he did it:

  • When he found out that public parks in Colorado were being sprayed with pesticides, he organized and emceed a press conference that gathered over 50 youth to speak about the issue and over 200 attendees to learn about the harmful effects of pesticides in parks.  He led fellow youth to speak to the City Council about the issue—who didn't know that the Parks Department was spraying pesticides—and the City Council took the information Xiuhtezcatl gave them, investigated the action, and issued $50,000 to train Boulder Parks staff on how to manage parks without pesticides.
  • He created a multi-media presentation on the harmful effects of plastic and paper bags and showed it to youth at community events. With hand-created “plastic bag monsters” he held demonstrations and meetings with members of the City Council. As a direct result of his efforts, the city took action and issued a fee on plastic bags.
  • In school, Xiuhtezcatl learned about the dangers of coal ash particles released into the air and water when energy plants burn coal. At age 11, he spoke at an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hearing pushing for better regulations on the ash to protect children and communities.
  • Xiuhtezcatl and the Earth Guardians spent a year educating their community about alternatives to coal for powering homes and communities. The City of Boulder was nearing the end of a 20-year contract with Xcel, a gas and electric company. Through community events, speaking at City Council meetings and delivering door-to-door information, Earth Guardians campaigned to the city to not renew the contract and instead pursue alternative energy to power the city.

Xiuhtezcatl also uses music to express his concerns and move the public: he started a performance group called Voice of Youth and he writes original music and lyrics to educate people about the Earth. Watch him performing here.

Beyond Boulder

Xiuhtezcatl’s work led him to become a youth plaintiff against the state of Colorado and a Federal plaintiff against the United States, filing suits against the state for not protecting the atmosphere and the environment and thus jeopardizing his and his peers' future.

Xiuhtezcatl meeting with representatives in Washington, D.C.

Although he ultimately lost the lawsuit, he is not discouraged. He plans to file a petition on the Public Trust Doctrine and the Atmospheric Act  and is currently gathering signatures from youth for the petition.

In May 2012, Xiuhtezcatl and a delegation of five youth went to Washington, DC, to meet with representatives from all three branches of government to secure their support for climate change efforts. Given the energy industry's extensive lobbying power, the youth weren't sure how successful they would be.

In the end, over 80 members of Congress and the Congressional Progressive Caucus publicly expressed support for the youth delegation and their work to ensure a healthy future.

In addition, Xiuhtezcatl was the youngest—and lauded by media across the globe as one of the "most inspiring"--speakers at the Rio+20 United Nations Summit in Rio Brazil 2012.

Focusing on Fracking

Xiuhtezcatl will be featured on SHOWTIME as part of a James Cameron series documenting the controversy around hydraulic fracturing (fracking), a process that uses water, mixed with sand and chemicals, injected at high pressure into the earth to break up rock and enable gas and petroleum to be extracted.

Xiuhtezcatl  has worked with over 50 environmental organizations to advocate for state and national bans on fracking. He has organized rallies, and spoken on panels alongside experts. One of his Earth Guardian rallies closed down the County Commissioners on Fracking, which gained national media coverage and sent a powerful message to County Commissioners that communities have a say in fracking.

He has waged similar campaigns against genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the food supply.

Media Attention

Xiuhtezcatl's story was featured in "Trust Colorado", a short film Documentary by Peter Gabriel's organization Witness, which 2012 Best Environmental Film Documentary of the Year. You can view it here: 


See more of Xiuhtezcatl in action:

As the youngest 24 Under 24 nominee, Xiuhtezcatl continues to inspire youth and adults alike, encouraging people everywhere to become more aware and educated, and to work together to face the threats to our environment.

“I think it is so important for the voice of youth needs to be heard in policy making because we are the ones that are going to be most affected by the crises that we are facing with our environment and our climate,” says Xiuhtezcatl.  “We deserve to have a say in the kind of world we are going to inherit. Youth are innovative and have a clear understanding of the environmental crisis and what it will take to turn things around. We have a powerful voice, and people are listening.”  

“I am incredibly honored and excited to be named a SparkAction 24 Under 24 Change Maker," adds Xiuhtezcatl. "I am excited to connect with other changemakers like myself from around the nation so we can unite and strengthen our work by working together.  My work and my message are my life and I know that this award will help my message and my work get to even a larger audience which is so important to me.”


This profile is one of the Top 24 Under 24 Youth Changemakers, a series hosted by SparkAction and the Campaign for a Presidential Youth Council to recognize young changemakers influencing policy and practice at the local, state and national levels.

The members of the youth-led Campaign chose the 24 youth who are featured in this series, from entries submitted by peers and mentors.

We’re always looking for more profiles of young people making a difference, so submit one of your own!


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